The widow and child of an Oakdale police officer who was killed in a traffic accident last year have been awarded an $8.5million settlement in a wrongful-death lawsuit, possibly the largest in Stanislaus Countys history.
The family of Paul Katuszonek was granted the settlement last month from Gold Star Foods Inc., a food distribution and long-haul trucking company that employed the driver responsible for the fatal accident on Highway 132 one year ago Friday.
The driver, Jose Santos Hermosillo, was charged Wednesday with vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, a felony. He could not be reached for comment.
He also was charged with a crime applicable to truck drivers for driving more hours than allowed under federal guidelines.
Hermosillo had been driving for nearly 23 hours with only 41/2 hours rest when his truck barreled into the back of Katuszoneks car at 55 mph, said Modesto attorney Steven Fabbro, who represented the Katuszonek family in the civil case.
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, drowsy driving causes more than 100,000 crashes a year, resulting in 40,000 injuries and contributing to 1,550 deaths.
Gold Star CEO Dan Madsen said Friday afternoon that he did not want to comment about the civil case or the criminal charges against Hermosillo, who no longer is an employee.
Fabbro said Hermosillo had falsified his driver logs to make his drive times comply with the law.
Records from the GPS system on the Gold Star truck proved that Hermosillo actually was driving when he reported he was resting, according to Fabbro. That day when he said that he was in his camper berth resting at 7:30 a.m., he was already on Highway 5 heading north, Fabbro said.
Four hours later, Katuszonek was on his way to work after dropping off his daughter at his mother-in-laws home. He stopped on Highway 132 for a road closure about a mile east of Faust Road.
Fabbro said witnesses reported that Hermosillos truck was weaving as it approached the construction zone, and only about 100 feet from Katuszoneks car did he attempt to stop.
It was a clear case of driver fatigue, Fabbro said.
The impact killed Katuszonek instantly. His car propelled the car stopped in front of him into state Department of Transportation worker worker Brian Smith, who was flagging motorists to stop.
Hermosillo also faces an enhancement for inflicting great bodily injury on Smith, which could add time to his sentence if convicted.
Caltrans originally was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, but Fabbro said he dropped the agency from the claim after determining it provided sufficient precautions to warn motorists about the road closure.
Reached Friday, on the anniversary of her husbands death, Shannon Katuszonek declined to comment about either the civil or criminal cases.
Fabbro said the $8.5million settlement came last month, nine days before a jury trial was scheduled to begin.
It is one of, if not the largest, settlement for a single wrongful-death case in Stanislaus County, Fabbro said. Pauls widow and child deserved it.